Without the 2014 season, the 2015 season would not be possible. The 2014 season laid the framework for what will be the future of MLS and RSL within its ranks.
First, in an effort to become one of the most competitive leagues in the world, the league unveiled a new television deal. Back in May, Major League Soccer signed a new television contract with ESPN, FOX Sports, and Univision Desportes - in conjunction with U.S. Soccer - that promises to be lucrative for both the league and the media. With 34 matches being shown on each of the networks, Real Salt Lake has an infinitely better chance to get national exposure under this new contract.
Second there was the merger between the USL Pro and MLS Reserve systems. This year saw the birth of reserve teams directly connected with a MLS parent club. The role of this merger is to create an investment for player development where youth and professionals can bridge the gap between the academy and the first teams.
Not surprisingly, one of the big money teams of MLS was first to dip their toes in the water with the Los Angeles Galaxy creating LA Galaxy II. This experiment proved to be a huge success as the Galaxy's reserve team was able to make it to the cup championship as favorites but fall just short of USL Pro juggernaut Sacramento FC. Seeing the success of LA Galaxy II and striving for their own development systems, six other MLS teams founded USL Pro reserve teams that will begin play in 2015.
Among these teams was Real Salt Lake. On September 10, RSL Owner Dell Loy Hansen unveiled the Claret-and-Cobalt's very own USL Pro team, the Real Monarchs - while the name might insight laughter, the team will do anything but. Having a USL Pro reserve team is expected to accelerate the growth of young players in a professional environment by developing them under the parent club's philosophy.
Real Salt Lake and Real Monarchs General Manager Garth Lagerwey stated that the formation of a USL Pro reserve team "establishes [RSL] as a mid-market team." Selling out every match in the 2014 season, Lagerwey said that Real Salt Lake's management will be taking the revenue made and reinvesting it back into the club. With Real Salt Lake thriving on the business side of things, Hansen seems determined to make substantial investments in the organization in an effort to keep competitive with big-market teams like LA and Seattle.
With the core of RSL getting up there in age, the USL Pro development is expected to act as a bridge between the academy system - somewhere where RSL is already excelling at - and the first team. The process of passing the torch it at the Claret-and-Cobalt's doorstep and the club is already in the process of taking all the right steps to ensure a smooth transition.
Lagerwey echoed this sentiment last week at a press conference saying, "I do think that we have to get a little bit younger and be willing to take some risks with our roster to try to get a little bit better, because I think we had a very good team, and I think we've been very good for a long time, but we haven't won a title in five years."
In an effort to keep Real Salt Lake's "Moneyball" approach working, Lagerwey insists that another generation of star player will have to come through the ranks of the club's development system. For RSL, success seems to rest on the shoulders of internal development.
One of the biggest focuses for RSL will be developing difference-making players. With the contracts of several key contributes set to expire less than a month, young talent led by Luis Gil, Joao Plata, and Carlos Salcedo may be ready to take reigns of the Claret-and-Cobalt sooner rather than later.
With a change on the horizon, Real Salt Lake's Arizona appears ready to contribute. This year alone, RSL signed the young talents of Justen Glad, Jordan Allen, and Sebastian Saucedo - who won the Golden Boot at the Generation Adidas Cup - to homegrown contracts after fulfilling the requirement of spending at least a year in the RSL academy. The likes of Nick DeLeon, Tony Cascio, Donny Toia, and Benji Lopez have also spent time at the academy in Arizona.
In addition, RSL's academy also made headlines last week as reports had Josh Doughty, who played the last two years with Real Salt Lake's residential academy program in Arizona, signing a youth contract with Manchester United. Doughty, who was raised in the Phoenix area, scored 10 goals for Real Salt Lake's U-16 team during their last season and helped his team reach the final of the 2014 Generation Adidas Cup.
With that in mind, the talent is obviously there for Real Salt Lake within the development system, all the club has to do is polish the players into first team quality.
Real Salt Lake has all the pieces to be successful in the future. Yes, the club has had its good times and bad this season, just like every season before, and there is still room for improvement. Still, it is that roller coaster ride that provides the experience to improve. The future is bright for Real Salt Lake as the club inspires to remain amongst the top teams in the league.
Do you think that the young players at RSL are ready to step up? Can players like Salcedo be relied upon to take the place of veterans like Nat Borchers? If so, which veterans do we let go and how do the youth players fit in the first team? What do you think? Share you opinions in the comments section below.